What is modified atmosphere packaging?
Synthetically managing the air in and around stored foods to keep them fresh for longer, has been a technique since around the time of the Egyptians as an early rudimentary form of modified atmospheric packaging (MAP).
MAP is a packaging solution that tests the mixture of gases inside the barrier packaging sealed containers of meat, fruits, vegetables, drinks, pharmaceuticals and other perishable items that allows foods to stay safe to eat longer. The barrier film helps protect the consumable from outside elements and spoiling. The smallest amount of Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide, water vapor or Nitrogen inside the sealed package can impact product spoilage and trigger oxidation. The main feature of MAP is its ability to decrease the amount of Oxygen inside the package, because Oxygen causes oxidation. Oxidation is the main cause of discoloration, off-flavors and textures. MAP is a great way to ensure food products stay fresh and last longer.
There are many different food groups that can benefit from modified atmospheric packaging. MAP is used to package meats, fruits, vegetables, as well as other consumable goods. Cheese, fresh pasta, ready meals and seafood can also benefit from MAP.
Additionally, MAP can be applied to other packaged goods such as coffee beans. Coffee beans release Carbon Dioxide when they are roasted, and without the use of MAP, the beans must cool completely before being packaged or else the build-up of CO2 gas can cause the packaging to burst open.
Another up-and-coming use for MAP is the legal cannabis industry. Cannabis companies, like any other consumable goods manufacturer, want their products to stay fresh longer. When cannabis is mixed with Oxygen gas, the THC inside the cannabis is turned into CBN. CBN affects potency and quality of the cannabis. Some legal cannabis companies are using MAP and Nitrogen gas to flush out extra Oxygen and extend shelf life, much like the MAP which is already used for produce and meat.
Removing oxygen from packaging
One of the ways in which MAP helps protects foods is by a process called gas flushing. Nitrogen is often used to decrease the amount of Oxygen in a sealed food package, because Oxygen can increase how fast the food expires. Nitrogen in an option for a flush gas to remove excess Oxygen from the container to displace the Oxygen because it reduces the risk of growth of aerobic organisms.
The atmosphere inside the package must be carefully balanced. The Nitrogen will displace the Oxygen, but it will also remove the moisture. Gases will always seek equilibrium, and some of the displaced moisture is still needed inside the package to maintain texture and the red color that you see in some meats. CO2 can then be used to support moisture and lower pH to optimize the packaging environment.
Works with barrier films for food protection
The right barrier can increase protection on packaged foods. The films decreases the absorption of moisture and Oxygen. Plastic films and foils are used to seal the MAP food packaging. Once Nitrogen or other gas flushes the Oxygen out from the package, the barrier film protects the food from further involvement with Oxygen.
Packaging films are selected based on the characteristics of the food product and the permeability properties of the selected protection. Basically, the barrier is an extra layer of protection for preservation that maintains the atmosphere in the package.
Reduces use of preservatives
One of the latest food trends is food made without preservatives or GMOs. People like to know that the contents of their food is really food and is not artificial.
A benefit of modified atmospheric packaging is that is does not use preservatives to maintain freshness. MAP slows deterioration and preserves quality.
Because the gas flushing removed unwanted Oxygen from the packaging, it is not necessary to add preservatives to maintain taste and texture and prevent spoiling. Not only is this appealing to consumers, but also to manufacturers because it simplifies the food packaging process overall.
MAP is a cost-effective way of packaging food because it extends market reach. Since products can stay fresh longer, they can be transported further from the origin facility. This increases distribution of the product. In addition, products have a longer shelf-life which decreases the frequency of deliveries and reduces expenses.
The longer freshness cycle reduces frequent product rotation and restocking, which in turn reduces labor. And because the product does not spoil as quickly, there are fewer product returns for expired, damaged, or discolored products. Overall, testing for MAP reduces waste from the very start of production.
Verifying MAP protection during packaging
MAP only works if you can verify the gases inside the packaging and that the seal is not broken.
To help verify MAP protection, food packagers use handheld oxygen meters like the TecPen MAP Oxygen Analyzer or the TecPen MAP Oxygen and CO2 Headspace MAP Analyzer to test quality control for packaging. This oxygen analyzer uses a cannula to to pierce shrink-wrapped or vacuum sealed packaging of meat or produce. The gases inside the packaging are pulled into the sensor and tested as part of a quality control process. The TecPen can verify the level of oxygen inside the packaging to verify gas flushing or film barriers were used correctly. Learn more about the TecPen here.